It’s time I weighed in on on the Great NY Mosque controversy at this point in time.
I wish to note that there are in fact, two huge issues at play for me in this discussion.
The first is the issue itself, which is the debate over whether we should support the immediate use of certain innately arbitrary legal powers (zoning laws) by government in order to stop the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero. I will discuss this issue here.
The second issue, is how Objectivists handle disagreements like this. That’s of greater long-range interest to me, and I will address it at some point; however, that will have to wait until I have gathered all the data and the discussion has more-or-less played out.
The very quick summary, to set the initial direction, is this: I am in agreement for now with Paul and Diana Hsieh, in their posts here and here, and the reader may wish to also note my comments there.
For the Record: I remain open to being convinced that the construction of the mosque represents a sufficiently immediate and pronounced danger to our liberty and country, that it should be stopped by *any* available means.
As yet, I have not yet seen the countervailing argument that meets the necessary conditions: to wit, that demonstrates a grasp of the opposing argument. I have chosen to respond to this post by New Clarion co-blogger Embedded I to illustrate and clarify my position.
Writes Embedded I:
Against all of the above, cries to protect American property rights will be as a tea cup in a tornado. Those rights are so woozy now, it is better to stop the insidious horde at every turn, perhaps through well defined, vigorously enforced, peacetime anti-sedition laws.
This is the point I have raised elsewhere: when the principled response to the islamic threat — declaration of war and decisive action by our government — is off the table, decisions like this become tactical in nature: tactical decisions, by nature, are very pragmatic, and principled only in the most basic sense: life or death.
As I have noted elsewhere, decisions like these are analogous to deciding which of two assailants in a street fight to focus on at any given moment: the nearer one with the knife, or the accomplice some distance away who is loading a shotgun. The *only* relevant guiding principle is immediate survival.
In this case, since the government is defaulting on its proper role (the safeguarding of a civilized order, where such things as property rights hold sway), we are placed in the position of considering the lesser of two choices, both of which are rotten when seen in the light of derivative principles, but nonetheless necessary. Choices like this are of an emergency nature, like medical triage, and involve tradeoffs (NOT “sacrifices”) that morally we should never be asked to make.
In this case, the alternative we face is the following: permitting the enemy a symbolic success as Embedded I describes here, versus interdicting that symbol at the cost of emboldening the statists, our enemies in *this* country — and of further sanctioning the accelerating expansion of an out-of-control State.
Doing the latter vis-a-vis Islam bothers me a hell of a lot, for this reason:
“The dissolution of parties, the prohibition of public speeches — these were strangely violent measures of the state in defense of freedom. ‘The freest constitution in the world’ did not officially provide or allow for such brutal intervention of police power. But Hitler and his like had for years filled the country with violence murder and destruction, and the state has not found the strength to suppress them with the cold majesty of law; and now, having unjustly spared them, the state could no longer defend itself except by injustice. Where Hitler began to speak, murder could be expected as a result. Hitler forced the state to stretch the laws in a rather arbitrary way — this in itself was a success. When he attacked, a few drops of his own poisonous spirit dripped on the enemy and infected him. In all points of his career, in the most insignificant and the most important situations, this was his most dangerous power, though unfortunately least understood: that he lured or forced his opponent to imitate him, to use similar methods and even adopt the qualities which he really wanted to combat in Hitler.”
–Konrad Heiden, “Der Fuehrer”, 1944 Houghton-Mifflin edition, p261-262. Emphasis mine.
That is my concern, which has not been addressed to my satisfaction anywhere, though it has at least been acknowledged as existing.
On the issue of the danger posed by Islam: I am already sold on that point. But that is only half of an argument. Assuming a priori that my disagreement follows from my ignorance or failure to appreciate the Islamic threat, is not the other half.
I need to know that those who wish to stop the mosque are cognizant of the problems attendant upon squashing the mosque, that they too are fully informed.
For one thing, no one has addressed the egregious legal problems and precedents brought about by permitting war powers to a government that has not declared war — not the least of which is the consequent legal indeterminacy of when such powers are to end. How long is this to last? Should we put out this fire at the risk of laying down tinder for who knows how many Reichstag fires in the future?
After all, the never-ending war against an indeterminate enemy is a known hallmark of tyranny, as dramatized in Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, and as seen in the propagandas of tyrannies both long gone and current.
There is ample demonstration from history of how an external enemy can be used by internal forces aspiring to destroy liberty. Much as Hitler exploited the threat of Communist tyranny to enact his own version thereof, those statist elements in America — of which there are no shortage — are perfectly happy to use arbitrary State power to stop the mosque, thereby setting the precedent for them to use later against enemies of their choice.
After all, would that not be a rather powerful symbol itself? Look, the Americans are so scared of Islamists that it is willing to contradict its own supposed principles, to use similar methods and even adopt the qualities which he really wanted to combat in [Islam]!
Who do you think would be emboldened by that symbolism?
Note this line from Ed Cline:
We are living in an unprecedented time, when this country is under attack by secular jihadists in the White House, and religious ones from Mecca and Medina, both sides demanding unquestioning obedience from Americans, and no one is doing much about it. This is the larger picture — an aerial photograph of the battlefield, if you will — that must be grasped. It is and it is not about “property rights.”
I need to know why Ed considers Faisal Rauf to be objectively more dangerous than actual jihadists in the White House (!)
And again: I have read the words of our own Myrhaf, Embedded I, Amy Peikoff (twice) and , and their words are persuasive. They have made their case on the nature and threat of Islam. But without their comparative evaluation of the dangers of the alternative — of the “Weimar threat” as I have explained here — their argument is incomplete, and I cannot as yet accept their conclusions.
As Ed Matthews writes in a comment on yet another excellent post on this topic by Amy Peikoff:
I have no problem using nonobjective laws to shut down the mosque, on the grounds that it is a greater evil and more immediate threat than that posed by a US government even more capricious in violating our rights than it is at present…
Okay. I understand and accept this. Make that case, then, please. Why is the mosque “a greater evil and more immediate threat than that posed by a US government even more capricious in violating our rights than it is at present“?